Baker, DeLeo Back Testing for Stoned Drivers
By Alexi Cohan, Brooks Sutherland and Mary Markos
BOSTON -- Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo say passing new laws to target stoned drivers and get them off the road are a “priority” on Beacon Hill, after long-awaited recommendations for new pot laws were released Thursday.
The recommendations from the Special Commission on Operating Under the Influence and Impaired Driving call for mandatory blood and saliva tests of suspected pot-using drivers -- under penalty of license suspension.
Allowing police to take “oral fluid or blood samples” to help prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a drugged driver was under the influence of THC, the active ingredient in pot, will require a change in the OUI law and is a top priority, the panel states. Critics say THC stays in the blood long after the effects wear off, rendering the test potentially misleading.
Baker’s office said in a statement: “Governor Baker believes preventing driving under the influence needs to be a top priority for all stakeholders and last session proposed legislation to address this issue. Additionally, the administration has raised public safety concerns about impaired driving to the Commission, made a series of recommendations, and launched a public awareness campaign to promote safe driving.”
DeLeo said, “What still remains as the biggest concern that I have is public safety. Public safety especially in the sense of impaired driving ... as of yet I don’t think that we’ve come to any type of resolution in terms of how we’re going to be able to test folks that may be impaired driving as a result of marijuana smoking so I’d have to say that’s probably one of the top things on my list that we really have to address.”
The Executive Office of Public Safety and Security reiterated its warning that there is a crisis already underway, stating that there has likely been a surge in the number of stoned drivers, an increase in pot use by minors and more black market weed transactions.
A suspected stoned driver is facing motor vehicle homicide charges in the death of State Trooper Thomas Clardy in 2016. Police said David Njuguna of Webster was speeding when he crashed into Clardy’s cruiser, had been at a medical marijuana dispensary an hour before, and had THC in his blood.
Also ranking high on the commission’s list of recommendations was educating the public on the dangers of driving while high.
“We want to dispel that dangerous misconception that people drive better when they’re high,” said Mary McGuire, director of public affairs for AAA Northeast and a member of the special commission.
McGuire also pointed to the dangers of driving after eating a cannabis-laced candy or snack product.
“Edibles have a delayed effect -- you may get into your car and feel just fine and a half hour or hour into your trip home you are really under the influence and impaired in some cases,” McGuire said.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who said he plans to review the recommendations, told the Herald, “I think definitely we’re concerned about impaired driving and we’re concerned about people driving under the influence, so I think some regulations could be put there, I mean again, we have to make sure it’s legal within the boundaries.”